Following the Oilers

In the midst of all of the losing and failed playoff attempts are questions from concerned friends and loved ones.

          Why do you still cheer for the Oilers?

          It’s the same thing every year. Aren’t you sick of it?

          Are you okay?

Surrounding those questions are taunts and ridicule, constantly reminding us that it’s been a long time since the Oilers made it to the playoffs. That the Oilers have only made the playoffs 7 times in the past 18 seasons is easy to showcase. And that any sort of memory of dynasties should be washed away with the tears of pain and disappointment.

So why DO we follow this team?

First it’s important to review how we got in this position. My own real commitment, when I had the attention span to watch games and follow the news, started well after the dynasty days. This goal right here from the 1997 playoffs. Game 7, Dallas, overtime.

I was hooked. And every year since, despite all of the losing, the attachment grows. I’ll try to explain.

The Oilers being terrible has led to some unintentional consequences. All of which have played a significant role in our personal attachment to the team. While famous research studies have pointed to basking in reflected glory, I would argue that Oiler fans are basking in an addiction to uncertainty.

From the uncertainty that stems from professional sports, we’ve created an excessive amount of discourse. Think of the message boards, the blogs, the comments, the tweets. All filled with speculation and the ensuing gossip, which serves as a bridging tool for strangers to connect, share ideas and build community. And built on the foundation of the speculation and gossip across these channels are the storylines. Think of any player drafted and their back story before coming to training camp. Or when a player is playing poorly, we ponder what changes are needed in the lineup.

And from the storylines, we build these unique characters. We develop these strong attachments to players in the hope that they succeed (or fail depending on your outlook in life). Each character carries traits and skills, creating numerous short and long compelling narratives that we want (or hope) to see the completion of.

And at the very heart of all of this is the community, which includes fans, writers, broadcasters, and anyone else watching the game. The stories need a medium to be exchanged and extended, and it’s the social aspect of fandom that drives the communal and individual attachment to the game.

Now if the team wasn’t terrible, I’d argue there would be less to speculate on. I can only imagine what it’d be like supporting the Kings or Bruins. I’m pretty sure the topics would not include fledgling 4th round draft picks and failed defensive systems. The Oilers being terrible really is why it’s hard to quit now. We’ve invested so much time and energy following the story, it’s hard to turn away from the uncertainty and the possibility that some sort of conclusion exists. Combine that with the community you’re a part of, and the regular discourse, there really is a social attachment to the game that’s difficult to break.

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